Ellis Island and Immigrants
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Emma Lazarus "The New Colossus"
Ellis Island is located in Upper New York Bay, east of Liberty State Park and north of Liberty Island, in Jersey City, New Jersey, with a small section that is part of New York City. The entire island has been owned and administered by the U.S. federal government since 1808 and has been operated by the National Park Service since 1965.
It was the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the United States as the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station for over sixty years from 1892 until 1954. The island was greatly expanded with land reclamation between 1892 and 1934. Before that, the much smaller original island was the site of Fort Gibson and later a naval magazine. The island was made part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965, and has hosted a museum of immigration since 1990.
When Ellis Island opened, a great change was taking place in U. S. immigration. Fewer arrivals were coming from northern and western Europe–Germany, Ireland, Britain and the Scandinavian countries–as more and more immigrants poured in from southern and eastern Europe. Among this new generation were Jews escaping from political and economic oppression in czarist Russia and eastern Europe (some 484,000 arrived in 1910 alone) and Italians escaping poverty in their country. There were also Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Serbs, Slovaks and Greeks, along with non-Europeans from Syria, Turkey and Armenia.
The reasons they left their homes in the Old World included war, drought, famine and religious persecution, and all had hopes for greater opportunity in the New World. After an arduous sea voyage, immigrants arriving at Ellis Island were tagged with information from their ship’s registry; they then waited on long lines for medical and legal inspections to determine if they were fit for entry into the United States.
From 1900 to 1914–the peak years of Ellis Island’s operation–some 5,000 to 10,000 people passed through the immigration station every day. Approximately 80 percent successfully passed through in a matter of hours, but others could be detained for days or weeks. Many immigrants remained in New York, while others traveled by barge to railroad stations in Hoboken or Jersey City, New Jersey, on their way to destinations across the country.
Passage of the Immigrant Quota Act of 1921 and the National Origins Act of 1924, which limited the number and nationality of immigrants allowed into the United States, effectively ended the era of mass immigration into New York.
From 1925 to its closing in 1954, only 2.3 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island–which was still more than half of all those entering the United States.
Ellis Island opened to the public in 1976. Today, visitors can tour the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration in the restored Main Arrivals Hall and trace their ancestors through millions of immigrant arrival records made available to the public in 2001.